Sanjay Dutt Is Small Fry. What About The Real Big Boys?

I often welcome a hearty laugh when I watch news on television or read newspapers; because what I see and read is usually so exasperatingly infuriating and depressing that anger and frustration simply overwhelm me. So I had a hearty chuckle the other day when I found out that Sadhu Yadav – the brother-in-law of Lalu Prasad Yadav – will be a Congress candidate for the Lok Sabha elections. That, I thought, was delicious irony. I also laughed watching the media cover the manner in which film star Sanjay Dutt was projected and nominated as a Samajwadi Party candidate from Lucknow, a seat that is still held by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. From Vajpayee to Dutt would have been an interesting transition! But then, Sanjay Dutt happens to be a convicted criminal who is also a Bollywood megastar. I have the deepest sympathies for him and his family; but I have always wondered if the Indian judiciary, and the media, were going commodiously soft on him because of his background. I mean, he did allegedly confess to storing AK-56 rifles and grenades (given to him by the gangster Abu Salem who is now behind bars but more than willing to contest elections)!

So my first thoughts when the Supreme Court refused to allow Sanjay Dutt to contest elections was a mild sense of relief that maybe we are moving in the right direction. That maybe we, as Indians, are heading for a galvanised situation when criminals can no longer utilize their contemptible clout or specious charisma to contest elections, get elected and announce that they have been vindicated by the ‘court of the people’ – the ultimate authority in a democracy. But before I could even think further along those lines, I remembered the putrescent scores of criminals who were openly making a mockery of the Indian democracy even during this Lok Sabha election, with the Indian judiciary looking on helplessly. I checked with my editorial team and found to my horror that criminals are serious and leading candidates in every major state in India; and that they belong to virtually every political party. Even more shocking, criminals who have been convicted and are spending time behind bars and who are not allowed to contest elections are planning to enter the Lok Sabha through the back door by having their wives, daughters and other close relatives contest the elections. In fact, I am still finding it hard to digest the fact that many so called criminal politicians with serious allegations of being in league with terrorists are also serious players this time. God really help India, I say.

I am simply appalled at how India’s electoral and judicial system has allowed this to happen and how much worse continues to happen. I squarely blame both the political class and the Indian judiciary for this intolerable failure that threatens to destroy India. My editorial colleagues have done much research and told me that both the Election Commission and the Supreme Court in fact wanted to take steps that would prevent criminals from contesting elections. The tipping point for them was when, back in 2002, all political parties conspiratorially and concomitantly got together and passed a law that actually allowed criminals to contest elections. Many thereon say that Indian judiciary tried its best and it should not be blamed.

I totally disagree. I think the Indian judiciary and the political class are both guilty of depriving the average Indian citizen of even basic ordinary choices. Economics says that crime too is ruled and infected by incentive – that is, the less the chances of you being punished, the more the chances of you committing a crime. The rancid Indian political class is aware of this delightful incentive. And the pallid Indian judiciary has generously not bothered to redress the balance. Look at Sanjay Dutt. He was arrested for a crime allegedly committed in 1993; and you have puissant Indian courts still trying to decide if he should contest elections! It is only in the last few years that sustained pressure from civil society has forced the judiciary to send even powerful people – including politicians – behind bars. Otherwise, it was simply case after nauseant case of a criminal politician benefiting election after election as cases dragged on in regrettably inefficacious courts.

The deeper problem is the Indian judiciary not making an example of rotten apples within its own suppurating system. We have been profanely embarrassed by public revelations that millions of rupees have been delivered to the houses of High Court judges. We have seen the peccant spectacle of a High Court judge facing impeachment. We have seen credible allegations of a top judicial officer passing orders to favour his family. We have seen the caustic provident fund scam in Uttar Pradesh where numerous judges – some now in High Courts and the Supreme Court – have brazenly misused their powers. We have seen a licentious High Court judge enterprisingly exchange sexual favours for judicial orders. We have seen snappish judges protesting vehemently that they can’t declare their assets. And one thought Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion! We seem to have seen it all. And yet, where is the movement towards basic reforms in judiciary where the rotten apples could have been punished so severely that the ‘incentive’ system would have worked against malefic corruption and worse?

If even those opprobrious judicial officers facing serious allegations of corruption and crime can use the system to get away, what can one expect of pathologically criminal politicians who anyway don’t make tall promises about sobriety and honesty?

Sanjay Dutt is simply a small fry. The real bigger fry are continuing to make merry at our expense. Civil society needs to tackle this twin menace most urgently if it wants a future for India.

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